Middle Eastern dance - Oriental dance - raqs sharqi - belly dance.  There are many terms for an art that has been called the oldest form of dance in the world.  Dancers, writers and people living in the Middle East call it Oriental dance or raqs sharqi.  It is usually called “belly dancing” in North America, which comes from the French dance du ventre (dance of the stomach).

Belly dancing goes back five thousand years, to the civilizations of ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia.  It draws on movements from Africa, Asia, and the Middle East as well as influences from Spain and India.  Although it is best known in Egypt, Turkey and Lebanon, most Middle Eastern and north African countries have contributed movements and elements from their folk and ethnic dances.  Most recently, a new form of belly dancing called tribal dance developed in the United States in the 1980s.

In Egypt, dancers are often hired to perform at weddings and other celebrations.  Dancers also perform in nightclubs in Turkey, Egypt, and other Middle Eastern countries.  In Canada, they are just as likely to be found at professional belly dancing shows and multicultural events as in restaurants and nightclubs.

Characteristics of belly dance:
·        Movements emphasize the torso, particularly the abdomen, hips, chest and rib cage.
·        Unlike Western forms of dance such as ballet and jazz, which emphasize leaping, lightness, and space, belly dancing is “grounded” in the earth.  Her center of gravity is low and there is seldom any leaping or jumping (except in some types of folk dance). 
·        Dancers often use props such as zills (finger cymbals), canes, plates or goblets, candles, capes or veils, and swords. 
·        Belly dancers often choose Arabic music, which has different scales and instruments than Western music.  In contemporary belly dancing, however, dancers often choose world music, new age music, and Arabic pop music. 

Photo Courtesy Ben Checkowy